Craig Hodges, the silenced precursor to Black Lives Matter in the NBA

By Miguel Ángel Moreno

Sports Desk, Sep 13 (efe-epa).- At the beginning of Michael Jordan’s hegemony at the Chicago Bulls, another player contributed to the team’s two championship titles in 1991/92 and won three consecutive Three-Point Contests.

However, that player’s name was surprisingly omitted from Netflix and ESPN’s successful documentary The Last Dance.

Though this isn’t the first time Craig Hogdes (Chicago, 1962), had been overlooked.

When the Bulls came to an end in 1992, Hodges had no new offers from any team or agent despite having an average three-point tally of 37.5 percent.

The reason for this had nothing to do with his behaviour as a player, Hodges says in his autobiography Long Shot: The Triumphs and Struggles of an NBA Freedom Fighter, but rather for his political activism.

Raised in the civil rights movement, Hodges became a threat to an NBA that, at the time, was allergic to activism.

It even strained his relationship with Jordan.

Hodges famously attended the White House reception to collect the championship ring in 1992 wearing traditional African garb and equipped with a message for George H. W. Bush.

After that, he never returned to play in the NBA.

He finished his career in Italy, Turkey and Sweden and only returned to the American league as a trainer for the LA Lakers between 2005-11.

He sat down for a chat with Efe to reflect on his career, his political activism and its links with today’s Black Lives Matter movement.

QUESTION: In your book, you say that at one point in the NBA it was common for players to say ‘you don’t want to be like Craig Hodges.’ Why?

ANSWER: The journalist David Zirin (who penned the prologue in the autobiography) told me that when a TV reporter asked the players in the locker rooms why they didn’t want to speak about social issues in the microphone, their answer was was always ‘you don’t want to be like Craig Hodges.’

For me that was kind of eye-opening because I always considered myself a professional, I did my job, I stood for my contractual obligations. But when it became a thing where I spoke on behalf of poor people, people who are disenfranchised, those who don’t have a voice, then it became a problem. People who have an opportunity to make a lot of money, endorsement money, they don’t want to put that in jeopardy. So many people won’t speak up because they understand the ramifications of the economic side of things. For me, I was raised in the civil rights movement, my mom was the secretary for the movement, so for me it was a no-brainer that I had to speak up when I see injustice.

Q: When did you first realize that this could cause you problems?

A: When I got traded from Milwaukee (to the Phoenix Suns for his relationship with race activist and religious leader Louis Farrakhan) that’s when I found out when people were kind of upset with my position that I took on poor people and disenfranchised. For me it was something that I didn’t really… when you’re in the midst of doing what you do, you don’t really stop and say ‘man, what are they going to do if I do this,’ it’s just a matter of you’re doing what you do man. Me, like I said, I’ve always been the type of person when I get information and knowledge, I’m excited to share that.

Oftentimes some people looked at me sharing information about conditions about people that they didn’t want to really hear, they didn’t want to sit through that. Some of it is understandable, but for me for the most part, seeing where we are today, I’m glad that I stood on the principles that I did because I think to some degree, we gave some light for this generation that’s standing up because they know that someone was there before… now you have social media and you have an instantaneous following. It’s a lot mellower now than it was then.

Q: In the book you talk about your time in Chicago with Michael Jordan, did you try to speak to him about race issues? What was his response?

A: That’s the funny thing about it. Michael, Scottie (Pippen), so many guys who were upper echelon, they’d be in the conversation but they wouldn’t be in the conversation and it would be a thing like they’d be listening at ear shot and taking some of the information but it was rare that Michael would get involved in conversations that were about social issues or issues of race. He always kind of just stayed out of it.

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